Review: Fourth Generation War Handbook

February 27, 2017

Andrew Breitbart said in his 2012 CPAC speech that the institutional left was at war with conservatives, and at a deeper level, with America. It is easy to take this phrase as hyperbole, or as a figure of speech, but recent events indicate that Breitbart saw where the logic of the left would inevitably lead. Political terrorism at Berkeley, in DC, against Trump supporters, against cops, and against white people generally, is beyond disagreement, and is beyond ordinary politics. Many mainstream commentators now have observed that the divide in America has not been this wide since 1860.


What Lind and Thiele offer, in their Fourth Generation Warfare Handbook, is an idea of what that war will look like, how to win it, and perhaps most importantly, how to identify that you are in one.



The title derives from the four generations of modern warfare, the first beginning after the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Prior to this truce, warfare had been fought between families, between tribes, between cities, between businesses, between religions, and all sorts of other institutions. It was, in fact, comparatively rare for entire nations to band together in an organized fashion to wage organized war against another similarly organized nation.


Yet this became the way that most wars were waged after 1648. Warfare was decreed to be the prerogative of the state. Any participation by non-state actors was seen as illegitimate, not to mention ineffective, given the scale of war that could be carried out by nation-states.


The fourth generation of modern warfare represents a return of warfare to the realm of the non-state actor. As one General observed, soldiers were taught that if they had air superiority, sea superiority, and land superiority, they would win. America had all those things in Vietnam, yet they lost. It is easy to see parallels in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as in Latin America.


"Guerilla warfare" does not quite capture what fourth generation warfare is about. It is more accurate to take the famous military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz' axiom, that war was "the continuation of politics by other means," and to invert it: "politics is the continuation of war by other means." It is flexible, decentralized, and fluid in nature. The lines between armed combat, litigation, and argumentation become blurred. As Lind and Theile describe, "in Fourth Generation War, everything you do is a PsyOp [Psychological Operation] -- whether you want it to be or not."


The difference between warfare and politics is subtle. Superficially, warfare-by-politics and ordinary politics are very similar (by design). But the shift is discernible when you look at the motives and patterns of revealed intentions by the political actors in question. In a healthy republic, politics is a means of resolving differences of opinion on policy and interests between a homogeneous group with shared values. They do not seek to destroy each other.


Fourth generation warfare uses the mechanisms of ordinary politics, but for the purposes of defeating a hostile enemy. When a nation imposes punitive tariffs (an embargo) an a neighboring state contingent upon that neighbor giving them resources, it does not matter what sort of superficial justification they may give. Perhaps they have found some "human rights violation," which that state has committed (along with most every other nation). Perhaps they can interpret some action of that state as hostile, and their own imposition merely as punitive. But by their actions, everyone can tell that it is an act of aggression, with the tacit force of the military backing their tariffs. War by other means.


The handbook details how this paradigm applies to a state military commander, and how a state military can attempt to handle a non-state actor, who by nature has an advantage in fourth generation warfare. But the principles apply equally to non-state actors who find themselves the target of another non-state actors declaration of war. The levels of warfare -- physical, psychological, and most importantly, moral -- and the mindset of the fourth-generation war-fighter -- the light infantry -- are critical to understand if you are to fight, and win, a war in the 21st century.


For the purposes of the Cascade Legion, identifying when you are at war is probably the most crucial paradigm shift Lind and Thiele provide. Many people (myself included) have been talking about a civil war coming to the United States in the near future, for demographic and political reasons beyond anyone's control, including Trump's. However, if we wait for an official declaration of war, for the appearance of tanks on Front Street, or for large-scale reporting in the mainstream news of us being "at war," we'll be waiting a long time. Technology and strategy, in the pursuit of the aims of war, have evolved.


The thugs that attacked civilians at Berkeley were not peaceful, or Democratic. Nor were they a spontaneous overflow of emotion. They were a manifestation of a collective will. The Washington DC riots, the riots in Portland, and the physical attacks against "Nazis" were only performed by a small number of actors, but were incited, excused, minimized, accepted, and even celebrated by a greater majority, who will wish similar actions on others, and employ the threat of that kind of violence to impose their will on the rest of the population. Such a state is not "politics as usual." This is war-by-politics; the opening shots of a fourth generation civil war.


There is one kind of soldier that dominates the 4GW battlefield: the Light Infantry. The light infantryman is not a line-infantryman. The latter follows orders. He obeys his superiors. He does not think for himself, because if he did, there would be no coordination, and he might actually get in the way of his own forces. In today's four-dimensional battlefield, however, top-down coordination is already a lost-cause. Spontaneous, fluid coordination, in a bottom-up and lateral fashion, is the only way to fight.


The light infantryman thinks for himself. He thinks on his feet. He travels light, and lives off the land. The light infantryman is a hunter, not the hunted. The light infantryman goes where his enemy does not think he can go, and ambushes them where they least expect it. The light infantryman is stealthy, and is aware of his surroundings. He understands the local dynamics, and the moral demands of the people in whose land he is operating. He trusts them and protects them -- he becomes friends with them -- and they protect him in return, providing more security and hospitality than the most imposing military fortress or bunker.


In short, the old rules of warfare -- both identifying and fighting -- no longer apply, because states are no longer the primary or the most effective actors in warfare. To identify a war, you must identify the motives behind political actors that do not fall within the realm of legitimate politics. To win a modern, Fourth Generation war, you must become a light infantryman, familiar and at home in the complex and dynamic battlefield of the 21st century.


To do either, we should all read the book.

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